ALBANY – A defendant raised sufficient questions about whether a juror was tainted when her son-in-law, a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the courthouse, allegedly told her during the trial he knew the defendant was “guilty from day one,” an Appellate Division, Third Department, panel ruled Thursday.
The panel in People v. Beckingham, 104689 ordered a hearing on the question in Otsego County Court, rejecting the prosecution’s argument that an affidavit filed by the deputy’s son in which he said he heard his father make the statement to the juror should not be considered because it was hearsay.
Justice Robert Rose (See Profile) wrote that the statement by the deputy’s son, if accurate, contains “sworn allegations substantiating or tending to substantiate all the essential facts” that would entitle Timothy Beckingham to relief under CPL 440.20[b].
“Although the People submitted sworn affidavits from the deputy and the juror denying the allegation, they reflect the existence of a factual dispute that should be resolved at a hearing,” Rose wrote.
Beckingham’s appellate attorney, Andrea Hirsch of Manhattan, said she also has an affidavit from the daughter of the sheriff’s deputy in which she said she also heard her father telling juror Vicki Judd that Beckingham was guilty of killing his wife Joanne.
The comments were made at a family dinner attended by Judd, Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Ashley and Judd’s children while Beckingham was on trial, Hirsch said.
Jurors are routinely cautioned during trials not to discuss with anyone the matter they are hearing.
Beckingham, 59, was convicted of first-degree manslaughter in 2006 and is serving a maximum 25-year sentence in prison.
Prosecutors argued at Beckingham’s trial that his wife died from massive internal injuries, including 12 fractured ribs and a lacerated liver, that she suffered from a beating after Beckingham caught her talking on the phone to a former boyfriend. They claimed that Beckingham may have been too intoxicated on the day of his wife’s death to remember beating her.
Beckingham has maintained that he only hit his wife twice in the head with a hairbrush and that she died from an overdose of alcohol and prescription drugs. Her internal injuries, he argued, were caused by paramedics who spent more than an hour performing CPR in an unsuccessful effort to revive her.
The Third Department in 2008 denied Beckingham’s first attempt to overturn his conviction on direct appeal, ruling in People v. Beckingham, 57 AD3d 1098 (2008), that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s finding. It also held that the recantation of the testmony of a jailhouse informant against Beckingham was insufficient to require a new trial.
Beckingham renewed the challenge to his conviction under a CPL 440 motion, contending prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel and jury tampering based on statements allegedly made by the deputy to his mother-in-law. His motion was denied by Otsego County Court Judge Brian Burns in July 2011.
The appellate court rejected all the defendant’s contentions last week except for the jury tampering argument.
Hirsch said Eric Ashley’s son Darryn Ashley and his daughter, Jennifer Davis, had submitted affidavits for the CPL 440 motion in which they described Eric Ashley’s comments to his mother-in-law at the family dinner.
Hirsch said Eric Ashley’s connection to Judd was disclosed during voir dire, with trial Judge Michael Coccoma noting on the record that Eric Ashley was normally assigned to provide security at the Otsego County Courthouse.
Judd said she could be impartial espite having a law enforcement officer as a son-in-law and neither the defense nor the prosecution objected to her being seated on the jury, Hirsch said.
Beckingham was represented at trial by Albany attorney Raymond Kelly.
Hirsch argued that, contrary to the contention of the prosecution, the statements were not hearsay because they were not offered as proof of the matter asserted by Ashley, that Beckingham was guilty. Rather, Hirsch argued, they accurately reflected what the sheriff’s deputy allegedly told a juror while the trial was being conducted.
Hirsch declined to comment, citing the on-going nature of the case.
Otsego County District Attorney John Muehl said Beckingham was “grasping at straws” in a bid to win a new trial.
In addition to having affidavits from Eric Ashley and Judd saying the conversation over Beckingham’s guilt at the family dinner did not take place, Muehl said he believes Jennifer Davis will also deny that the conversation occurred because she refused to sign her affidavit.
“I have full confidence that the court will see this for what it is and that the court will see that these witnesses are not credible,” Muehl said in an interview.
Michael Getman, chief assistant district attorney in Otsego County, argued before the Third Department.
@|Joel Stashenko can be reached at email@example.com.